Township Administrator’s Corner
The Ohio Township Association hosted its annual winter conference in Columbus on Jan. 25-27, featuring subject matter experts presenting on a variety of topics ranging from zoning issues to township budget considerations. Over the course of the conference, members of the Bath Township Board of Trustees, the fiscal officer and I attended a number of sessions geared toward helping public officials understand their responsibilities to the communities they serve, and to grow in their knowledge base of complex township issues.
As a participating member of the Ohio Township Association that represents 1,308 townships in Ohio, Bath Township has access to important legislative updates and resources pertinent to township governments. In addition, Bath Township is deemed a large township, based on its population of 10,024 residents, and maintains membership in a separate group known as CLOUT (Coalition of Large Ohio Urban Townships). CLOUT’s annual meeting was held during the OTA conference and both the OTA and CLOUT provided important legislative updates to representatives of member communities.
To begin, local government assistance through the state of Ohio’s Local Government Fund has been a source of needed revenue for townships for many years. The funding formula was modified 15 years ago to provide 3.68% of the state’s general fund to townships for financial support for road maintenance, as well as police and fire services. Due to budget shortfalls at the state level, the LGF formula was cut in half in 2011 and has remained unchanged since that time. Over the past decade, it’s estimated that Ohio townships have lost $24 million in local government funding, $30 million in tangible personal property tax revenue and $79 million in estate tax. As part of the legislative priorities for the OTA and CLOUT, restoration of the 3.68% LGF formula and allocation of additional revenue are deemed essential for sustainability of vital township services.
Also of note, cybersecurity threats against local governments have become increasingly prevalent across the country. With the use of online resources for the administration of public services, local governments are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks. In 2019, the Ohio Cyber Reserve was created to provide financial assistance to Ohio townships to address cyber threats. However, it is readily apparent the cyber problem requires implementation of complex and expensive safeguards. Cyber threats continue to plague local governments, and in many cases involve foreign criminal offenders, making recovery of lost funds difficult, if not impossible. Increased technology funding to townships at the state level is considered another legislative priority.
Another area of concern for communities across Ohio is the regulation of short-term rentals. An incident several years ago requiring police department response to an unruly party in Bath Township highlighted the short-term rental problem and the need to evaluate the township zoning code and its applicability to this issue. Unrestricted websites like AirBnb enable property owners to offer short-term rentals in zoning districts that expressly prohibit the activity. Legislation proposed in 2022, had it been approved, would have prohibited townships from adopting or enforcing zoning regulations or restrictions on short-term rentals. The OTA opposed the legislation and, fortunately, it never reported out of legislative committee. Legislative efforts to revive a similar proposal in the 135th General Assembly in 2023 appear likely. Unlike cities and villages that can enforce short-term rentals through regulation under home rule authority, townships must rely on broad zoning code provisions to address the problem. The OTA will continue to oppose legislation that strips townships of authority in this important area.
Finally, with increased residential and commercial development in Ohio townships, there are fewer large open land areas than once existed between neighboring properties. Township population growth over the past ten years has shown a steady increase. It’s been reported there are now 20 townships in Ohio with populations that exceed 20,000 residents and 50 that exceed 10,000 residents. As townships become more densely populated, activities like open target shooting are become increasingly dangerous in residential areas. Although there is limited township authority regarding the discharge of firearms for target shooting, the topic is considered a critical safety issue as more people are living closer to their neighbors. There are a few local and state laws that provide some oversight for open shooting in limited circumstances, but additional regulation is necessary.
The OTA is once again proposing legislation that would provide parity between townships and municipalities in their ability to adopt sensible regulations on firearms discharge based on population density in residential areas. Bath Township will continue to advocate for legislation regulating open shooting that balances the rights of responsible gun owners with the overall safety of the community.
Bath Township remains engaged with the OTA and CLOUT organizations to promote legislation that serves the best interests of our community. Township officials also understand the importance of utilizing resources in the most effective and efficient manner and will continue to promote policies that further that goal each and every day. ∞